Sand Canyon Trail in Cortez, Colorado offers riders an experience that is both invigorating and historically rich. Part of the Canyon of the Ancients trail system, this unique path takes you through slickrock and singletrack terrains. Alongside the thrills of mountain biking, ancient Puebloan sites dot the trail, offering a rare glimpse into history.
This trail is an advanced rider's dream, incorporating several types of terrains that demand attention and skill. The trail opens with slickrock areas that transition smoothly into hard-packed red dirt.
The trail rewards those who come prepared. Lightweight, short-wheelbase bikes with tubeless tires are recommended. Unprepared riders may find themselves dealing with flat tires due to the cacti scattered around the trail.
Sand Canyon Trail isn't isolated. A saddle around 1.7 miles up the trail connects it to the East Fork Rock Creek canyon. The upper end of this canyon can be technical, but it generally requires less 'hike-a-bike' compared to the main trail. You also have the option of making the ride a loop by crossing over the lower end of the ridge back to the parking lot.
While the trail challenges your biking abilities, it also serves an almost spiritual experience. Ancient ruins and a pinion/juniper forest surround you as you ride. But, riders are urged to show respect for these archaeological sites by staying strictly on the trail. Even stepping off onto the dirt can damage the delicate ecosystem and historical sites.
Riders should note that the trailhead offers no water, toilets, or other amenities. Getting there is straightforward: Head south of Cortez on Highway 491, then turn right on County Road G, following the signs for the airport or Hovenweep National Monument. After 12 miles, you'll find the unimproved slickrock parking area on the right.
Sand Canyon Trail provides an adrenaline-filled ride set against a backdrop of ancient ruins and stunning natural beauty. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, as some riders find it less enjoyable than other Colorado biking spots like Phils or Moab. However, if you seek a trail that challenges your skills while enriching your soul, this might just be the journey for you.